Links for December 23rd

The BBC’s digital rights plans will wreak havoc on open source software

Last summer, the BBC tried to sneak “digital rights management” into its high-def digital broadcasts.

Now, generally speaking, the BBC isn’t allowed to encrypt or restrict its broadcasts: the licence fee payer pays for these broadcasts, and no licence fee payer woke up today wishing that the BBC had added restrictions to its programming.

But the BBC tried to get around this, asking Ofcom for permission to encrypt the “metadata” on its broadcasts – including the assistive information used by deaf and blind people and the “tables” used by receivers to play back the video. The BBC couched this as a minor technical change, and Ofcom held a very short, very quiet consultation, but was overwhelmed by a flood of negative submissions from the public and from technologists who understood the implications of this move.

Fundamentally, the BBC is trying to leverage its broadcast licence into control over the devices that can receive broadcasts.

Ivor the Engine brought back to life in new book

Cartoon favourite Ivor the Engine is being brought back to life in a new book, 50 years after first appearing on television.

The book, which will raise money for charity, has been written by the son of the late Oliver Postgate, who wrote the original Ivor stories.

It will be illustrated by Peter Firmin, the original illustrator.

The last full length story of the Welsh engine and his driver, Jones The Steam, was made in 1977.

Major record labels gang up and screw over indie record store

A small indie record store owner in Ottawa, Canada, has plead guilty to a charge of copyright infringement for importing rare CDs from abroad. Apparently, these discs (which are themselves licensed, as far as I can tell) aren’t licensed for sale in Canada, and Canadian law (apparently) bans this kind of parallel importation.

But none of these CDs are actually available in Canada. And no one orders rare, expensive imports unless he’s already got the artist’s entire catalog. And, of course, the record labels that went after this record store owner (whose whole purpose in life is to sell their CDs) are presently being sued for $60 billion in copyright damages for ripping off artists, and have admitted to $50 million in liability already.

James Randi, Global Warming and the Nature of Scepticism

It was something of a shock then to see Randi write an article on his site that questioned the scientific consensus that man made activities are responsible for climate change and that dramatic intervention is required. Such views, we tend to think, are the preserve of the ‘denialist’, loon or vested interest. How could Randi do such thing?

Firstly, of course it is perfectly respectable to cast a skeptical eye over the apparent consensus of global warming. There are indeed undoubtedly inflated claims around, and we need to be on our guard. The activities of lobby groups, such as Greenpeace, have done much to damage the scientific credibility of the green agenda over the years. However, the science community has acted independently of these groups and the consensus has emerged from within rather than channeled and gilded by the usual environmental loud mouths.

The media and the message

Innovations, not paywalls, are the future for media companies says regular commentator Bill Thompson.

Ericsson: Keep R&D in Coventry

Unite is campaigning to save communications giant Ericsson’s research and development site in Ansty, Coventry following the company’s announcement in November that it plans to close the plant in mid-2010 with the loss of 700 highly skilled jobs.

Unite is calling on the government to support the UK’s role in innovation and research and development of hi-tech communications which it has hailed as one of the key areas of future growth for the UK economy.

Unite argues Ericsson’s decision to close the site and transfer the work to China and elsewhere is a huge blow to the UK economy and the union is particularly concerned that the closure of the site will reduce the UK’s capacity in this key hi-tech industry.


I’m a little horny

So, Christmas is nearly here. The goose is getting fat, or at least it’s getting ready for pickup from the local farm shop.

There’s no escaping it: I get to play a lot of Christmas Carols.

It’s not that I dislike Christmas or anything but after 30-odd years of playing the same tunes out in the wet and cold English winter it starts to get on your tits a bit.

Happily, I’ve quite enjoyed it this year. We’ve played some Carols while a local man opened his yearly display on his own house and generally played Carols in the warm insides of places.

I even got to play at work this week, hence the attached photo. It turns out that there are a few brass banders working here and so we got together as “Ansty Brass” to play morale-raising Christmas tunes to our fellow workers.

We’ve had some nice comments about our playing too, which was really nice. Plus I got to wear my 97p reindeer horns.

I’ll be playing more Carols in the Market Square in Nottingham tomorrow if anyone’s around. It’ll be cold so don’t forget to wear a vest.

MPs: not all crap

There are all sorts of compaigns out there on the internet. People get upset about all sorts of stuff, create websites and bombard politicians with requests for support for multitudinous half-baked ideas.

Some are more worthy than others and one that I support is the Libel Reform campaign. I started getting interested in this while reading about Simon Singh‘s run-in with the British Chiropractic Association. The BCA decided to sue him because he wrote an article which said that some of the BCA’s claims were “bogus”. This was an opinion piece and the BCA have tried to silence him with an expensive lawsuit.

Unfortunately, the UK’s libel laws make it very easy for the people with the most money to stamp all over those seeking free speech. Simon Singh, like anyone else in the UK, shouldn’t expect the law to side mainly with those looking to limit freedom of expression:

English libel law imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on free speech, sending a chilling effect through the publishing and journalism sectors in the UK. This effect now reaches around the world, because of so-called ‘libel tourism’, where foreign cases are heard in London, widely known as a ‘town named sue’. The law was designed to serve the rich and powerful, and does not reflect the interests of a modern democratic society. [Libel Reform report]

Our libel laws are a joke and they’re limiting the discussion of science, politics, anything with commercial interests. It’s time that these archaic laws were sorted out and I whole-heartedly support the Libel Reform campaign.

I signed the pledge and emailed my MP, Nick Palmer, from the Libel Reform website. He always replies to emails but I was pleasantly surprised when he sent me a message saying that he hadn’t been very aware of this issue but having seen that it was supported by Sense About Science he was more than happy to support the Early Day Motion related to this campaign. It seems that my email has prompted him to do this. Result!

I’ve often been impressed with Nick as an MP. He’s a proponent of positive politics and normally refrains from trying to score political points. His expense claims seemed more than reasonable and he’s one of the more responsive MPs in parliament.

I’ll be voting for him at the next election for sure.



Ruby, originally uploaded by rutty.

We’ve been to see my Mum at the weekend and so we got to give Ruby her bath there. She quite likes having a little splash about in the water but is sometimes not so impressed with getting dried off afterwards.

She was fine last night, though. Here she is looking a little angelic.

I’ve edited this using the GIMP photo manipulation application and have probably gone a bit too far with using various filters on there. Still, I like the effect. There’s some film grain, lomo effect and some cross-processing going on